Commentaries - February 2012

Special Issue of Current Musicology: Experimental Writing on Music


Spring 2013
David Gutkin, Editor-in-Chief

For this issue we are looking for writing on music that departs from the implicit and explicit norms of academic music scholarship in favor of a more experimental or creative approach to language and form. “Experimental writing on music” is a broad criterion and we would like to keep it that way. Thus, the following should simply be taken as examples of some possible avenues to pursue: 

Someplace other than what he read and the video he showed

David Buuck and the reenactment of Occupy Oakland

image copyright Lawrence Schwartzwald
image copyright Lawrence Schwartzwald

This past Saturday David Buuck presented at the Bowery Poetry Club for the Segue Series. I say “presented,” rather than “read,” as his reading featured video and song in addition to recitation. David has been exploring a very interesting range of problems in an expanded field of poetry for some time. Some of this is contained in his book The Shunt, which appeared with Palm Press in 2009. Yet the majority of it has been documented through pamphlets the poet-artist-theorist has put out himself, under the moniker BARGE, which stands for The Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics, and more recently on Vimeo.

While I have long admired David’s performances, which blend constraint-based writing with movement, dance, and music, this Saturday had an added urgency as he addressed conflicts between participants in the occupy movement and police in his native Oakland.

For years David and I have had an ongoing conversation about the uses (and abuses) of “reenactment” for public demonstration and aesthetic intervention. His 2008 work, Buried Treasure Island (which I discuss in a previous article at Jacket 2, on “Somatic Poetics”), features “pre-enactments” of what he hopes will be future ecological actions and sites, figured through the artist Gordon Matta-Clark for whom he has named a yet-to-be-remediated “park” on the island.

Reenactment came up in a different way through the performance at Segue, where David first read what seemed to be a series of instructions for dance and/or movement (like ones a Yoga instructor might give, or he and I might give our students at Bard College’s Language and Thinking workshop). After reading these instructions — to bend your arm so many degrees, to place your chest on the ground, to exhale in a particular way — David proceeded to read from an Oakland police blotter, which he told me afterwards had been leaked by the hacktivist Anonymous only days before.


Poetry in the streets

Rio book release party for Sérgio Vaz's _Literatura, Pão e Poesia_
Rio book release party for Sérgio Vaz's _Literatura, Pão e Poesia_

In December, I spent a vibrant night at the Cooperifa spoken word salon on the South Side periphery of São Paulo. The open-mic sessions take place every Wednesday at the bar of Zé Batidão, a neighborhood gathering spot in Jardim Guarujá, where up to 300 people of all ages converge weekly to listen to and perform poems. Over the last eleven years, Cooperifa (the name is a compound of cooperativa and periferia) has become well-known in São Paulo and throughout Brazil for uniting and strengthening, through poetry, a community that is marginalized in both social and geographic senses. Sérgio Vaz, a poet and founder of Cooperifa, is widely recognized as a community leader; in 2009, Época magazine named him one of the hundred most influential people in Brazil. Indeed, Cooperifa spoken word is something of a popular movement that has spread beyond São Paulo.

Jorge Santiago Perednik (1952-2011)

With two videos of Perednik by Ernesto Livon-Grosman

photo by Ernesto Livon-Grosman

Jorge Santiago Perednik (1952-2011) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An influential poet and literary critic, he was also a publisher and a translator of English and American poetry. He founded several literary journals, two of the most influential being XUL and Deriva. The former was an important poetry journal that started publishing during Argentina’s last military dictatorship in 1980; it continued until 1997 with the printing of its 12th issue. As a journal, XUL provided regular compilations of some the most innovative poetry of its time. The journal was also one of Argentina’s best sources of new critical writing.  It was dedicated to publishing the most diverse poetics within the experimental tradition. Perednik's work as a poet and editor reflected his interest in many of the poetics included in the journal: visual poetry; John Cage’s mesostics; sound and performative texts--along with the most serious experimental works in Spanish American poetry. Perednik’s writing was primarily associated with his always expanding interest in exploring language and its relation to poetry rather than with any particular literary school.

On Primo Levi's 'Iron' and 'Carbon'

Recently I was asked to speak for a few minutes about a Jewish writer I believe should be better known. Primo Levi certainly is well known, but perhaps more known of than read, beyond, perhaps, Survival in Auschwitz, which maintains something of a life on high school and college curricula as a partner to, or substitute for, Elie Wiesel’s Night. (They are utterly not the same book. Nor the same kind of book. But they feel to teachers somehow like bookends.) In any case, Primo Levi wrote several other extraordinary books, the most powerful (and by far most formally experimental) of which is The Periodic Table. It is a modernist epic in prose. It has none of the immodesty of The Cantos or Ulysses or The Bridge or Paterson, but it seeks, through genocide and meditations on science pedagogy, to make a whole gigantic statement about what’s elemental of the meaning we make, and its parts, elements of a table that it itself a supreme fiction explaining the whole world, do not add up to a coherence but yet do embody the world. Readers of this commentary will have read my praise of this book before, so I will not dwell on it here. But I do happily present my 17-minute talk on the book. Because of the time constraint, I had to choose what to say about several parts that would be representative of the whole, so I concentrated on the final paragraphs of “Iron” (a chapter preceding Levi's stay at Auschwitz, which is reckoned in the chapter called “Cerium”) and the final paragraphs of “Carbon,” the last chapter of the book, and its most (shall we say) organic. Organic in theme and celebratory of the fictive present-tense-writing self in form. Here is that audio: MP3.